Israel Adesanya is the new UFC interim middleweight champion. The 29-year old Nigerian defeated Kelvin Gastelum in the UFC 236 co-main event on Saturday in a back and forth bout that may have been Fight of the Year.
Adesanya found his range and timing in the second round. He delivered kicks to the body and combinations to the head. A straight right hand sent Gastelum crashing to the canvas. Gastelum quickly got back to his feet but was wobbled by a spinning back elbow. “The Last Style Bender” dominated the round.
Adesanya continued to pick Gastelum apart in the third round, but Gastelum had Adesanya in survival mode in the fourth frame after landing a head kick. Heading back to their corners after the round, the momentum had turned.
With the fight on the line, Adesanya rose to the occasion in the final frame. He landed his right hand repeatedly. He knocked Gastelum down three times, but Gastelum continued to fight back. After five rounds of fighting, the judges scored the bout for Adesanya by unanimous decision. All three scorecards read 48-46.
“I was ready for war. I told y’all. I wanted to take him out, but I was ready for war,” said Adesanya after the win.
Heading into the final round, it was anyone’s fight, but Adesanya wasn’t worried about the scorecards.
“I don’t think about scorecards. All I need is one round. I kept on saying in my native tongue, heart of a lion. I have a tattoo of Nigeria with a lion inside on my chest. I was willing to die,” he said. “I knew I was willing to give it all and leave it all in there.”